Agriculture minister says worst of rotten meat scandal is over

Brazil's giant food producer JBS on Thursday suspended beef production for three days at 33 of its 36 plants, as the country reels from import bans imposed by China and other big clients over a tainted meat scandal.
Brazil's giant food producer JBS on Thursday suspended beef production for three days at 33 of its 36 plants, as the country reels from import bans imposed by China and other big clients over a tainted meat scandal.PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA (Brazil) • Worldwide markets have been slamming their doors on Brazilian meat since revelations that rotten product was being sold with faked certificates, but the agriculture minister has said "the worst of the process is over".

Just under a week since police announced they had discovered meat-packing companies bribing corrupt inspectors to certify tainted meat, Brazil's huge meat industry is reeling as China and other big clients suspend or impose extra checks on imports.

In an interview on Thursday, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi insisted that the problem is isolated and that Brazilian products represent no danger. But the economic damage to Latin America's biggest country could be dire: US$1.5 billion (S$2.1 billion) in sales are at risk, Mr Maggi estimated.

In another sign of the impact, giant food producer JBS announced late on Thursday that it was suspending beef production for three days at 33 of its 36 plants, followed by a reduction of production to 35 per cent capacity next week.

 

"These measures aim to adjust production until the question of the embargoes is resolved," the company said.

However, officials are pushing back hard, with President Michel Temer expected to call his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to try and get the import ban lifted.

"I think the worst of the process is over," Mr Maggi said.

"All countries are showing goodwill. They understand that with the procedures we have set up over the years, as well as the fact that importers themselves also make checks, they can be sure that our products are good."

He said Brazil's challenge is to persuade markets that while "some public servants were corrupt, we've never had, not for a moment, accusations that our products are not good quality, especially those for export".

"We need to separate these two things," he added.

Like other officials, Mr Maggi showed his frustration at the police. Mr Temer's government is already in a tussle with prosecutors investigating high-level corruption and embezzlement at state oil company Petrobras, and the meat scandal has further strained relations.

Mr Maggi questioned why the police had not said anything before, given the probe announced last week had been running for two years. "This is one of the mistakes of the operation," he said. "The Federal Police made a mistake when it came to communicating. They exaggerated in some places, feeding the public's imagination."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2017, with the headline 'Agriculture minister says worst of rotten meat scandal is over'. Print Edition | Subscribe